The twittersphere was all agog yesterday as the Ministry of Culture released photos of a head found by the archaeologists which is being touted as the heads of one of the headless sphinges guarding the entrance to the tomb at Amphipolis. Here’s the offical photos released by the Ministry
Kathimerini’s coverage provides the relevant info that the ministry released
Archaeologists digging at a tomb dating to the era of Alexander the Great in ancient Amphipolis in northern Greece have found the missing head of one of the two sphinxes guarding the entrance of the grave.
According to a statement yesterday by the Culture Ministry, the head, which was found inside the tomb’s third chamber, belongs to the statue on the eastern side of the entrance.
Barring some slight damage to the nose, the head is largely intact. The head measures 60 centimeters from top to bottom. Archaeologists also found fragments of that sphinx’s wings at the same chamber.
I genuinely want this to be as described, but I see a problem. When you put this head on the sphinx at the gate, it doesn’t quite work (I know others have done this as well, but this is my own photoshopping). If one tries to fit the head according to the ‘break’, one gets this:
… which, as can be seen, won’t fit into the niche. If one sizes the head to fit.
… the head seems disproportionately small. Here are a couple of ‘closer’ views:
What also doesn’t quite gibe with me is that this head was apparently found inside the tomb and again the tomb robbers suggestion is coming up. The thing is, even if a tomb robber did do this, I doubt they’d carry the head some 14 metres into the tomb … they’d get it on the way out.
I think we have a head from another statue happening here … given the polos, possibly another Persephone.
As most rogueclassicism readers know by now, a spectacular mosaic depicting the abduction of Persephone by Hades was revealed last week at Amphipolis and is causing quite a stir for a number of reasons, not least of which is that such things have not been depicted in Macedonian tomb before, much less a royal Macedonian tomb (as far as I’ve been able to find out; late clarification: I’m referring to floor mosaics). I’ll post some links to some of the news coverage at the conclusion of this, but my primary purpose here is to flesh out some thoughts (one serious, one nutty) that I expressed on Twitter this past week. First, though, we need to see some photos from the Ministry of Culture of this amazing mosaic:
… and some photos released earlier in the week before they had revealed Persephone:
It was the latter photo — as folks who follow me on Twitter already know — which sparked my reaction that I had seen those two before. The one horse in three-quarter view, the other in profile, both in a ‘flying gallop’. Compare them to the horses in this mosaic (all the following photos are by Carole Raddato, who has made them available at Wikipedia):
Admittedly, in this mosaic, depicting the abduction of Helen by Theseus, there are four horses to the chariot (the mosaicist at Amphipolis is dealing with a smaller area), but you can probably figure out which two I’m thinking of:
… and the theme, of course, is somewhat similar … a woman being snatched away from her family. Here’s the rest of this ‘other’ mosaic:
So where does this mosaic come from? Pella, of course. In a previous post (Catching Up With Developments at Amphipolis) we noted that the first mosaics revealed at Amphipolis had an affinity with those of the House of Dionysus at Pella. Outside of the horses, folks have probably also noticed the mosaic border of the Abduction of Helen mosaic (the meandering reverse swastika thing with the ‘rosette’) from Pella also surrounds the Abduction of Persephone mosaic from Amphipolis. Both the House of Dionysus and the House of the Abduction of Helen at Pella date to the last quarter of the fourth century B.C., and given their similar styles to the Amphipolis mosaic, it seems like we’re being presented with further reasonable suggestions that the Amphipolis ‘tomb’ dates to the same time period. Again, however, we do await announcements of things like possible inscriptions (rumours are rife; I’m still not sure about the Dinocrates inscription claim from a year ago), soil, potsherds, coins, etc..
So that’s the serious stuff. Now we get into my ADMITTEDLY nutty theory which actually started percolating in my head way back in August when they discovered that ‘hole’ inside one of the tomb chambers early on and there were plenty of folks claiming the ‘tomb’ had obviously been broken into. One of my knee-jerk (emphasis on the ‘jerk’) responses in my noggin was “Why do people always assume ‘breaking in’ to a tomb? Why does no one ever suggest ‘breaking out’?” So as the excavations continued, I continued to look for support for my SERIOUS theory that we were dealing with an empty tomb — probably intended for someone like Alexander (as others, including Dorothy King) have suggested — that was filled in when that occupant was unable to be placed there and the tomb was subsequently filled in because burying anyone there might have political implications. But then we saw the Karyatids and they were in a pair. The nutty side of my brain immediately thought these were depictions of Demeter and Persephone. So I revisited the images of the Karyatids to see if there were any accoutrements that might be associated with Demeter and Persephone:
… I didn’t notice anything ‘wheat’ associated or ‘pomegranate’ associated as one might expect with a depiction of Persephone, but the ‘Karyatid’ did sport the same sort of archaic hairstyle we often see and the polos (crown). Maruizio Nicosia has a nice Kore page at Pinterest if you want to look at some depictions. So I went hmmmmmmm and moved on. Then, of course, the mosaic with the abduction turns up (which prompted a twitter comment, of course), and then I went full blown nutty when the Greek media began posting versions of 3d virtual reality reconstruction of the ‘tomb so far’. A nice representative one is by Nikolaos Alexandrou at Youtube:
What is interesting to note is that at every entrance, near the ceiling, there is a ‘hole’ which traditionally one would attribute to someone breaking in. So what if, instead, this is an architectural feature and people were meant to ‘escape’ from such holes? So here’s the full blown NUTTY THEORY in action: imagine that this structure wasn’t a tomb, but was a cult centre for some Eleusinian-type mystery. The actual ‘entrance’ for initiates was likely somewhere else (perhaps wherever the Lion originally stood) and the cultic activities would involve initiates going from inside the ‘tomb’, past the mosaic depicting the abduction of Persephone, past the Karaytids depicting Demeter and Persephone, and past the ‘sphinxes’ as a genuine ‘escape from the tomb’?
Yes, it is NUTTY … I don’t buy it myself. What I DO buy, however, are my prior suggestions that the mosaics have an affinity with Pella and support the late 4th century date promulgated hitherto by the excavatrices and excavators.
Although they need a bit of cleaning, obviously, it is interesting that the second one appears to be in the same sort of style (although on a smaller scale?) as the House of Dionysus at Pella, which dates to the last quarter of the fourth century (via Wikipedia):
About the same time, we began getting our first speculations in English of people other than Alexander who might be in the tomb. From LiveScience, e.g.:
Michalis Tiverios, an archaeology professor at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, told AFP a more likely candidate could be Nearchus, one of Alexander’s admirals, who lived in Amphipolis.
At the end of August, archaeologists had cleared the first chamber behind the ‘sphinxes’ and were assessing construction techniques and what needed to be done. (Ministry of Culture Press Release). They had also found yet another style of mosaic floor (white stones set in a red matrix … source):
Meanwhile, the Greek Television Station ENA flew a helicopter over the site which nicely demostrates how HUGE this thing actually is:
We also began to hear about the ‘circus-like’ atmosphere the archaeologists had to contend with by this point … from Greek Reporter comes an excerpt:
An official source, who has knowledge of the tomb’s excavation progress, claims that the archaeologists and crew cannot do their job as their mobile phones keep ringing and they have to fend off TV cameras and microphones shoved in their faces every day. They receive calls from politicians and journalists who are eager to know when they will go inside the tomb and what they expect to find there. Also, they have to answer speculations, wishes, and wild conspiracy theories. They even have to answer to technical details such as what kind of cameras they use to look inside the tomb without demolishing the protective wall. And all this while the initial excavation is still in progress!
At the same time, crowds of people gather all day long around the site that looks more and more like a community fair. Eager tourists and locals rush to see the media’s new archaeological Disneyland first, while the smoke from the souvlaki and hot dogs grills fills the air. Under the five-meter lion’s imposing gaze, a vendor from nearby village Strymoniko is selling peanuts, a way to survive in crisis-hit Greece.
We also had our first (in English) OpEd piece on how politicized the discovery was becoming … an excerpt from Kathimerini:
[…] It is not hard to imagine the impact of such a discovery if we take a look at the existing evidence. It is a known fact that Greece has long been at odds with Israel over who can claim the lead in nationalized and politicized archaeology, often in a way that is an affront to the scientific community. Let us take the findings of excavations in northern Greece, for example, constantly cited to suit political circumstances and often acting as ambassadors of national policy: The findings and their interpretation are used to prove the primal Greekness of the Macedonians and once and for all silence our unmentionable neighbors to the north who, surrendered to their own obsessive national policy, are seeking control over parts if not all of our Macedonian heritage.
Now, the ancient relics of Amphipolis are once more being linked to the name dispute and being used for petty political interests. They are being presented by the state and by many representatives of the media as the final confirmation of Macedonia’s Greekness, even though as a country we have staunchly supported this fact for the past 20 years. We have also heard it said that the findings at the tomb have steeled the morale of disheartened Greeks. First of all, with so many surpluses about, surely the Greeks are no longer disheartened. And second, if our morale has sunk to such a low (despite the Parthenon, Olympia, Delphi, Knossos and Vergina) that it needs a tomb to be revived, then there is much more we need to be worried about.
We have also heard that the discoveries at Amphipolis are contributing to the improvement of Greece’s international image – ergo, they may boost tourism. If the government really had such a high regard of archaeology, then why is it cutting back funding to the extent of causing major operational problems at excavations, sites and museums?
After much shoring up/stability work, on September 7 we got our first set of photos showing the Karyatids which ‘womanned’ the entrance to the next chamber (source):
Incredibly nice pieces and enough to spark a major interest (finally) on the part of the English world press. What I found particularly interesting was that the Karyatids were missing their arms (I’ll be returning to that below, although see Dorothy King’s post on the Karyatids). According to the Telegraph’s brief coverage:
[…] “The structure of the second entrance with the Caryatids is an important finding, which supports the view that it is a prominent monument of great importance,” the ministry said.
The face of one of the Caryatids is missing, while both figures have one hand outstretched in a symbolic move to push away anyone who would try to violate the tomb. […]
A couple days later, the Ministry release a really nice little reconstruction sort of thing showing where the finds to this point came from:
Then, on September 11, we were given the ‘full reveal’ of the Karyatids (source):
The wall behind the Karyatids revealed a very nice (it seems) Ionic doorway:
I’ve never seen three ‘nested’ blocks before, but I’m sure it’s not uncommon. In any event, after that came another domed chamber, which wasn’t filled with as much sandy soil as the previous two; the photos aren’t overly exciting, but can be viewed here. More shoring up was in order. Today’s press release added more details on work to be done, but also included some more photos of the Karyatids, which stand 2.27 m. tall and still bear traces of paint (source).
We should note that Dr Olga Palagia has been long suggesting that the tomb actually dates to Roman times and contains the bodies of those who fell at the battle of Phillipi, a few centuries later than the current date. Her views haven’t been much presented in the English press, but she did give a full interview to a Greek newspaper: Όλγα Παλαγγιά: Το μνημείο της Αμφίπολης χρονολογείται στη Ρωμαϊκή εποχή (September 16). For what it’s worth, the English media seem to be unwilling to name Dr Palagia, e.g., from Kathimerini:
The archaeologist leading the dig at Ancient Amphipolis insists that the tomb at Kasta Hill she and her colleagues are searching was built in the late 4th century BC.
“I firmly believe that this monument is from the last quarter of the 4th century BC and we have all the proof for this,” said Katerina Peristeri on Thursday.
“It is futile for other archaeologists to come out and talk about it being from the Roman era or anything else.”
Archaeologists entered the third chamber of the tomb, which has been linked to Alexander the Great, last Friday.
I’m sure we’ll be getting some major news next week. Until then, you can peruse a piece from Greek Reporter which nicely sums up all the speculation about who might be in the tomb:
While evidence shows that archaeologists are one step away from uncovering the “big secret” of Amphipolis, Greece, people are speculating on who is buried under Casta hill. Archaeologists and other world experts have supported different theories on who is the important ‘tenant’ of the Casta Hill. See the most popular ones below:
Mother of Alexander the Great, wife of Philip II, king of Macedon, and daughter of King Neoptolemus of Epirus. Cassander had her murdered by stoning in 316 BC. (Read full story)
Androsthenes, Laomedon and Nearchus
Alexander the Great’s three admirals are closely connected to Amphipolis. Androsthenes and Laomedon were born there while Nearchus was either born or exiled in Amphipolis.
Son of Antipater, did not follow Alexander’s army in Asia. He stayed with his father in Macedonia and used to fight with Polyperchon but eventually allied with him, when he killed Alexander’s son, Heracles. In 311 BC, he killed Alexander’s second son and successor, Alexander IV, along with his mother Roxana. He died of edema in 279 BC.
He served under Philip and Alexander. He returned to Greece from Asia in 324 BC -after the death of Alexander- and was appointed regent of Macedon by Antipater in place of the latter’s son, Cassander.
Philip II of Macedon
Some do not believe that the tomb of king Philip was located in Vergina. Meanwhile, others claim that ancient Greeks might have built a second monument in Amphipolis to commemorate the king.
Son of Alexander who was murdered with his mother, Barsine.
The twelve-year-old son of Alexander and Roxana who was murdered along with his mother by Cassander. If his grave is located in Vergina, then it is possible that someone buried him and disposed of his mother’s corpse.
Alexander the Great
Alexander sailed from Amphipolis to Asia. However, it is almost certain that his tomb is located in Alexandria, since people such as Julius Caesar have visited his burial site. Some, however, insist that his bones were moved to Amphipolis by Olympias, while others argue that it is a cenotaph “waiting” to receive him, or a second monument in his honor.
Cenotaph or Memorial
This view is supported by the various influences on the monument’s construction as well as its size.
General of Alexander’s army. Professor Theodoros Mavrogiannis believes that the Casta hill tomb belongs to Hephaestion and claims that the tomb was built in 325 BC by order of Alexander himself.
The wife of Alexander became the mother of his son in 323 BC after Alexander had died. Roxana fled to Epirus in order to be saved by his descendants, and later went to Amphipolis, where she was murdered by Cassander in 310 BC.
General of Alexander’s army, was proclaimed king in 306 BC and demanded that Cassander gives him Macedon. He died eighty-one years old and was buried with royal honors.
Son of king Philip. After Alexander’s death, he was proclaimed king by the Macedonian army as Philip III of Macedon. He was killed by soldiers who defected against Olympias. His bones were transported by Cassander to Aegae.
For my part, I continue to cling to my hypothesis that the tomb was intended for Alexander, but when his body was hijacked and sent to Alexandria by Ptolemy, the tomb itself was sealed up within a few years as it really could not have been used by someone else without political implications. The more I see missing parts of sculpture, e.g., heads of ‘sphinxes’, arms of Karyatids, that don’t seem to be broken off (the arms of the Karyatids don’t look like they were actually attached) — with the caveat that their existence/finding may not be reported in the press — the more I think this tomb was unfinished. Perhaps as well, parts were removed to ensure that it was considered unfinished and, therefore, empty.
That said, I find Olga Palagia’s theory interesting, but would really like to hear more details from both sides on what is being used to establish the date of the tomb. That the mosaic floor in one part of the tomb stylistically matches something from Pella is probably important in this regard. There must also be ceramics in the soil being removed; there might also possibly be organic matter which can be given the C14 treatment.
Finally, by way of ‘conclusion’ we should also note that Dorothy King has penned a number of blogposts answering ongoing questions about the tomb along the way:
In my precaffeinated minutes this a.m. I was jarred awake by a typically hyperbolating Daily Mail headline proclaiming: Game over for Greece’s mystery grave: Tomb raiders plundered site in antiquity – dashing hopes of finding artefacts dating back to Alexander the Great’s reign. Inter alia, a number of times the mantra was repeated, but here’s one excerpt:
[…] Experts had partially investigated the antechamber of the tomb at the Kasta Tumulus site near ancient Amphipolis in Macedonia, Greece, and uncovered a marble wall concealing one or more inner chambers.
They said that a hole in the decorated wall and signs of forced entry indicate it was plundered, but excavations will continue for weeks to make sure. […]
Now before I deal with the (actually reasonably good evidence) for the claim, I want to sort of ‘run through’ the course of the excavation (with photos from the Ministry of Culture, in the order they’ve appeared at their site), which led me to ask some questions about this tomb that I hope someone can answer. First, here’s an early image that made the rounds of various press agencies, which shows the first revelation of the “sphinxes”. I want folks to notice that the outer wall is ‘continuous’. We can also clearly see the archway with the “sphinxes” and a wall that was built in front of them.
The blocks in front were removed …
… and we were presented with a photo of the “sphinxes” … notice there is much dirt behind them. Some of us were idly speculating that there was a hole of some sort behind the “sphinx” on the right, but in hindsight it struck me that there really wasn’t enough room for someone to get behind the “sphinx” to dig like that.
Next, they began clearing the ‘entrance’ to the tomb and we heard, inter alia, of a mosaic pavement, but alas, we never did see a photo of same. This would suggest that they had cleared right to the ‘floor’ of the entrance, but I’m not sure that is the case. The photos from the entrance clearing did reveal some nice (painted) details, however. Ecce the initial views (we posted these already):
Then they were inside the vestibule:
This photo gives an idea of the soil filling the vestible (i.e. in the space behind the “sphinxes”. There clearly was a lot to be removed:
There’s a photo of the dirt having been cleared from behind the “sphinxes”:
Looking through that you can possible see a trace of the photo that’s causing “disappointment”:
If you look in the upper left, you’ll see the small (40cm x 60cm, according to various reports) hole which possibly provided access to the inside. You can also see the level of the dirt inside and — I’m assuming, from the white shading there –the level the dirt was at. The hole (if it is a hole going all the way through) is large enough for a small person to get through. But how did they get in to dig that hole? The vestibule has a barrel-vaulted stone roof, it appears, so something horizontal from the front? It really doesn’t make sense to me. If it was plundered in antiquity, I doubt they went ‘through the front door’.
Then again, and this is why I have questions, why is this vestibule filled to the top with dirt? Is this a typical Macedonian practice (I honestly don’t know). Or was this done later in antiquity, perhaps around the time of the ‘beheading of the sphinxes’? Even then, however, why was it all blocked off with those massive blocks? Done at the time of burial or later in antiquity? If at the time of burial, wouldn’t they have used better dressed stones? And when/why did they fill the space between the blocks and the “sphinxes” with dirt? Was all this meant to be ‘hidden’ or was it once open for passers by to see?
Folks wondering about the ‘latest’ can turn to this a.m.’s Greek version of Kathimerini, where it is revealed that the next few days will be spent protecting the paint and shoring up walls and the like:
… and here are the Ministry Press Releases whence came the above photos (they have other titles, but the MoC’s website has things set up somewhat unconventionally and it’s an incredibly slow site to access):
Quickly reading (or more properly, google translating) some of the Greek press this a.m., it appears some significant finds were made yesterday as they cleared the door. The skinny: the sphinxes are made of marble from Thassos, archaeologists found the detached wing of one of them, and perhaps even more important, a bit of the back of the Lion of Amphipolis were also found. Here’s the brief bit from News247 which mentions all this:
Η πλήρης αποκάλυψη των μαρμάρινων Σφιγγών που βρέθηκαν στον Τύμβο Καστά στην Αμφίπολη, η εύρεση τμήματος από τη ράχη του Λέοντος, καθώς και μικρού τμήματος της ανωδομής του μνημείου, είναι τα νέα δεδομένα από τις ανασκαφές που διεξάγει η ΚΗ΄ Εφορεία Προϊστορικών και Κλασικών Αρχαιοτήτων στην περιοχή, σύμφωνα με ανακοίνωση του υπουργείου Πολιτισμού και Αθλητισμού.
UPDATE (a few hours later): an excerpt from eKathimerini’s coverage:
The two sphinxes, which apart from being headless also have broken wings, are believed to have been crafted “by the same hands” as those which made a 16-foot-tall marble lion which is thought to have sat atop the burial site, archaeologists working on the dig told Kathimerini.
The sphinxes, each weighing around 1.5 tons and with traces of red coloring on their feet, will not be removed from the entrance to the tomb as archaeologists clear away stones and earth to gain access.
The sphinxes are 1.45 meters high and would have been 2 meters high with their heads, the Culture Ministry said in a statement.
Pieces of the sphinxes’ wings were found on the site, as was a large section of the back of the lion sculpture, archaeologists said.
Experts working on the excavation were also examining a section of the tomb wall which bears traces of red and blue coloring, in two shades. A mosaic displaying black and white rhombus shapes has also been discovered on the site.
A mosaic displaying black and white rhombus shapes has also been discovered on the site.
Technical work began on Monday at the tomb to avert any structural damage as archaeologists attempt to enter the tomb and discover what lies inside.
Some experts believe the site has been raided in the past but archaeologists cannot yet confirm this. […]